E-Cigarettes and Human Suffering

E-Cigarettes
Some are pushing e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to cigarettes. The facts don’t support that claim.

One of the major challenges that we all face is how we reconcile the fact of human suffering with the biblical concept of God. Atheists harp on the question of why God allows suffering, and why we were created in such a way that we have a huge list of diseases and maladies. We all have our “why me” moments as well, and many times we have to admit we don’t understand why certain things happen. Atheists have no alternative to offer, and “survival of the fittest” isn’t much help when you are not the fittest.

The issue is very complex, but a major part of the answer to the problems of human suffering is the fact that we do an incredible number of things to ourselves that result in massive suffering. Sometimes we do it in ignorance. A good example of this is the use of tobacco through the centuries. A hundred years ago we had no idea of how damaging cigarette smoking is. Today anyone who smokes is doing so in defiance of massive evidence that it will bring suffering to them and those around them.

In spite of what some are claiming, e-cigarettes are also terribly destructive to smokers. Chemists at the University of Connecticut have found that e-cigarettes cause damage to human DNA. e-cigarettes use an electrochemiluminescent (ECL) agent. The damage it causes to human DNA is as bad as unfiltered tobacco cigarettes. Non-nicotine e-cigarettes also do damage similar to tobacco cigarettes. The bottom line is that our lungs and our DNA were not designed to handle smoke, and the chemicals it contains.

Genetically caused or triggered diseases have increased enormously in the past fifty years. Some of the most insidious diseases are caused by man-made carcinogens. This isn’t the sole answer to the problem of human suffering, but it is a major factor. God does not cause this kind of problem, and our design is not at fault. The Bible says that our bodies are “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and it warns us to take care of that temple. Contaminating it with chemicals that harm us and those around us is not a fault of our Creator.
Data from Discover Magazine. December 2017, page 14.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

How to Stop the Aging Process

Stop the Aging Process
It’s scientifically impossible to stop the aging process. That is the conclusion of a new study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on October 25, 2017. You can read the full report here.

The problem is defined mathematically in that report. It involves two forces that take place in multicellular organisms, such as humans. As cells reproduce, mutations accumulate causing the cell functions to become sluggish and lose function. The result is wrinkled skin, gray hair, weakened bones, and many other things. When the body’s cells are young, they cooperate to weed out imperfect cells. With age, there are more cells with imperfections, and the body can’t keep up with removing the bad ones. At the same time, some cells start to reproduce uncontrollably. We call it cancer. Either we have sluggish cells or out of control cell reproduction.

Removing the sluggish cells leaves more room for the out of control cancer cells. Removing the cancer cells leaves the sluggish cells. A balance between the two is not mathematically possible to sustain. Eventually, the math catches up with us and death results. According to the report, scientists who are looking for the cure for aging are not going to succeed. Of course, we all know that lotions, creams, vitamins, and health foods have limited success in keeping us looking and feeling young. According to the research, either your cells will become more sluggish, or they will become cancerous. There is no other option. There is no fountain of youth. You can’t stop the aging process.

But wait! Genesis 2:9 tells us about the trees in the Garden of Eden, and mentions two of them by name. God commanded the first couple not to eat from only one of those two. The other one that they could eat from was called the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve were banished from the garden that God had prepared for them, they were cut off from the Tree of Life. God said that if they ate from it, they would live forever (Genesis 3:22). For them to live forever in their fallen state, separated from God, would be worse than death. On that fateful day, Adam and Eve died spiritually, and their bodies began to die physically. Ever since then, humans have tried to cheat death and live forever. The result has been a long history of failure.

But God had a better plan. He prepared a way to restore the descendants of the human race to Himself. He hinted at it in Genesis 3:15. The plan was revealed and completed by Jesus Christ. He set out to finish the task of restoration (John 4:34 and 5:36), and He did (John 19:30). We read in Revelation 22:1-2 about the River of Life flowing from the throne of God. Growing along the sides of that river we find the Tree of Life. No longer will it be out of reach. Until then–according to this scientific report–scientists are searching in vain to find a way to stop the aging process and death.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Different Shades of Brown

Different Shades of Brown
Racial prejudice based on skin color is a function of ignorance. I am amazed that promoters of violence against black-skinned people have daughters who are using tanning booths to get darker. There is no inferior race, and there are no different species of humans. Acts 17:26 tells us that God “has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth…” We are all just different shades of brown.

Many years ago the preacher of the Central Church of Christ in Birmingham, Alabama, invited me to participate in a television panel discussion. The format was a call-in where callers could ask questions for the panel to answer. On the panel with me was the black president of a small African-American college in East Texas.

The discussion took place during the time of racial strife in Birmingham. A caller asked if black people were evolved apes and white people were created by God in His image. I responded by pointing out that apes and white people have more features in common than apes and black people. This includes hair texture, jaw shape, skull shape, and even skin color when you look under the hair. This produced some antagonism from our host but was followed by the question of why black people are black and white people are white.

I took my hand and laid it on a white sheet of paper and asked if I was really white? The answer, of course, was that I wasn’t white like the paper. I was light brown. Then I asked my black friend to lay his hand on the same sheet of paper, and I asked if he was really black? The answer was obvious. He was just a darker shade of brown. I then made the point that we are all just different shades of brown, and we are all equally created in God’s image.

My black friend leaned over and whispered in my ear as we looked into some rather hostile people at the TV station. He said, “Ain’t neither one of us getting out of here alive.” I am glad to say that we did.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Neanderthal Genes

Neanderthal Genes
There has been a lot of confusion about the Neanderthals in both religious publications and scientific writings. Scientists have reported that there are Neanderthal genes in modern humans.
Many have treated the Neanderthals as ape-men, and there have been multiple theories about how they originated.

Religious publications have speculated about Neanderthal influence on biblical characters. Those who wish to find “giants” in biblical accounts have claimed that the Neanderthals were giants, and at least one set of fake pictures of huge skulls has circulated on the internet attempting to back that up.

Researchers in Germany have just reported on DNA studies of the Neanderthal genes in modern humans. They found 15 Neanderthal DNA traits in modern humans. What is interesting is that these 15 traits show up in people of British ancestry, but people of pure African descent have no Neanderthal DNA. This will certainly complicate some of the “out of Africa” theories about the origin of humans.

We suggest that most of the claims of prehistoric humans involve racial variations. No claim of different species of humans is supported by the evidence. The biblical claim that Eve is the mother of all humans (Genesis 3:20) continues to be strongly supported as we study our past.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Dangers of Long-term Marijuana Use

Dangers of Long-term Marijuana Use
A newly released study indicates the dangers of long-term marijuana use. The bottom line is that it alters brain cells.

The study was published in Jneurosci (The Journal of Neuroscience) on October 16. The researchers focused on the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain. Dopamine and serotonin receptors are concentrated there. Those receptors give a person the sensation of pleasure.

The scientists conducted the study on mice in their “teen” and “adolescent” stages of life. The mice received injections of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) every day for a week. THC is the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana (as well as opioids and alcohol) stimulates the VTA to release dopamine resulting in an experience of pleasure and the desire for more. There is a GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) cell in the VTA which acts as an inhibitor. When the brain releases GABA, it serves to restrain the desire for pleasure and keep it under control.

In the week of receiving THC, the GABA neurons lost their ability to control the desire for pleasure. They were in a state of “long-term depression” (LTD). This caused the dopamine to remain longer in the VTA giving a sense of being “spaced out,” and leading to addiction.

The researchers stated that the long-term effect of the THC was to remodel the brain’s synapses resulting in reduced “synaptic plasticity.” The synapses carry electrical or chemical signals from one nerve cell (neuron) to another. This “synaptic modification” is changing the brain at the cellular level.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association, and it is the standard reference used by mental health professionals at all levels. The current edition is DSM-5. It defines cannabis (marijuana) use disorder as a “problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”

In other words, marijuana impairs the ability of people to do things they need to do or even want to do. We have cautioned before about the dangers of long-term marijuana use and the consequences of legalization and wide-spread availability. This study confirms that danger.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Biological Clock Circadian Rhythm

Biological Clock Circadian Rhythm
Three scientists have just received Nobel Prize in medicine for proving scientifically something we knew all along. The scientists share the 1.1 million dollar prize for proving that we really do have a biological clock. The fact that you are alert at certain times and sleepy at others is not just in your head.

In 1984 they sequenced the “period gene” which others had discovered in fruit flies in 1971. The gene controls the circadian rhythm which regulates the daily sleep and wake patterns of all creatures, including humans. Following up on that work, in 1998 they found that the gene encodes a protein called PER. The PER levels build up at night and drop during the day. This discovery enables scientists to understand the molecular makeup of the biological clock.

Learning more about our biological clock leads to some useful understandings, including when is the best time to take certain medications. It also relates to shift work, jet-lag, and school classroom times. The understanding of circadian rhythms can be incorporated into practical medicine and the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that prepares us for sleep.

A group of sleep researchers a few years ago did some research on biological clocks. They sent a group of volunteers on a tent-camping trip to the Colorado Rockies. They found that people who work indoors where they are not exposed to outdoor light may need to have their biological clocks reset. When people are indoors during the day and exposed to electric lights at night, their clock can become out of sync. Exposure to strong artificial light at night can delay our master clock. That delays the production of melatonin at night, and then the melatonin level is still high in the morning when it’s time to get up.

The campers were only allowed to use campfires for light and no cellphones or flashlights. After spending a week away from artificial light and exposed to more daylight, the volunteers fell asleep earlier and woke up earlier. Their melatonin levels rose earlier in the evening and dropped earlier in the morning.

The recommendation of the researchers was to start your day with a morning walk and when you have to be inside open the shades to get exposure to some sunlight. You may find that you will sleep better and wake up more refreshed.

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night’…God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:14, 17).
–Roland Earnst © 2017

God’s Dwelling Place

God's Dwelling Place
People have constructed massive structures and religious places of worship to get in contact with God. Islam has Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammad with the Kaaba being the “House of God.” Buddhism has its shrines with the five elements–fire, air, earth, water, and wisdom. Bahai followers have their temples with the oldest one near Chicago, Illinois. Hindus have their “mandir” temples with the world’s largest one in the New York City metro area. The Mormons have the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City while Catholics have the Vatican. All of these cost a great deal of money, and all of them are geographically limited and impersonal. None of them are consistent with the biblical teachings for Christians. Where is God’s dwelling place?

Jesus made it clear that a new relationship was coming with the advent of Christianity. When Christ spoke with the Samaritan woman in John 4:20-24, He indicated that there would be no single place for worship. Peter in Acts 2:16-21 quotes Joel 2:28-32 in observing how worship of God and the presence of God was changing. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 we read that our bodies are now the “temple of God.” Ephesians 3:17 indicates that Christ dwells in the hearts of Christians based on love. Galatians 4:4-6 tells us that God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us.

The Church is people, not places. It can meet anywhere, under any conditions, with no expense or construction or long pilgrimage required. The Church we read about in the Bible did not own a temple or a house of any kind. When we read Acts 2:46 we see Christians meeting from “house to house.” The disciples met in an “upper room,” and they even met in the Temple (Acts 3:1). There is no justification for spending millions of dollars on a physical place to meet while people starve or freeze to death within sight of the structure.

In Acts 17:22-31 Paul talks to the leaders of the day about God’s dwelling place. In verse 24 he told them and us that God “does not dwell in temples made with hands.” He then told his listeners that people “feel after God and try to find him though he is not far from every one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being” (verses 27 and 28). Paul told them they should not think of God as something made by art and human design. He calls on them to repent (verse 30).

Atheists attack the abuses of religion and the waste of religious acts, and much of their criticism is valid. Humans do silly, wasteful things, but that has nothing to do with what the Bible teaches us about God. God’s dwelling place is not in our structures but in us. That fact should affect our lives as we understand what He calls us to do with what He has given us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Transactive Memory and the Bible

Transactive Memory and Couples
Many times a new concept appears in the scientific literature, and when we look at it, we see that it is something that the Bible has already described. A recent example of this is a concept given by social psychologist Daniel Wegner called transactive memory.

Transactive memory is defined as “a shared system for encoding, storing, and retrieving information.” Wegner explains this concept in this way: “People in close relationships know many things about each other’s memories. One partner may not know where to find candles around the house, for instance, but may still be able to find them in a blackout by asking the other partner where the candles are. Each partner can enjoy the benefits of the pair’s memory by assuming responsibility for remembering just those items that fall clearly to him or to her and then by attending to the categories of knowledge encoded by the partner so that items within those categories can be retrieved from the partner when they are needed. Such knowledge of one another’s memory areas takes time and practice to develop, but the result is that close couples have an implicit structure to carrying out the pair’s memory tasks.”

Psychologists are using this concept to help people dealing with the death of a spouse. As a person who has gone through that experience, I can testify that when your wife of 49 years dies, a part of you seems to die too. Panic attacks after the death of a spouse are common, and that is when you suddenly are faced with having lost a large part of your memory.

Bible readers will recognize this “new” concept. In the Old Testament, a variety of transactive memory devices were commanded and put in place by God. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 12, 20; Exodus 13:14; and Joshua 4:6 are all cases where devices such as writing history on door posts were given to help remember the past and teach children the value of a culture. The various feasts of Israel in Exodus 23:15-16 were transactive memory devices.

In the New Testament, the congregation was developed as a transactive device. Acts 2:41-47 shows transactive memory helping the first century Church. James 5:14-16 described congregational conduct in various circumstances in life. The Bible itself is a transactive device as it is described in 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

One of the problems with megachurches is that much of the transactive memory value of the local congregation is lost. It is hard to pray for or to encourage someone you don’t know. Death is of little meaning if you don’t know the person. The congregational conduct discussed in Hebrews 10:22 is difficult in a huge congregation.

When Jesus prayed for unity, He gave us something that can sustain us in every stage of life and in every crisis. We defeat that blessing when we make entertainment the focus of our worship and when we don’t build relationships that allow transactive memory to function. Transactive memory may be new to the world of social psychology, but it is as old as the Bible itself.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Cancer Curse and God

Cancer Curse and God
One of the most common catastrophic illnesses facing humans is cancer. If you live long enough, it is almost sure that you will experience cancer in yourself or a loved one. Atheists contend that there can’t be a God or He wouldn’t allow the cancer curse to become so common and cause so much suffering.

A study recently released by Johns Hopkins University found that 29% of cancer-causing mutations result from environmental factors such as Sun exposure or cigarette smoking and inherited genetic mutations cause 5%. The remaining 66%, according to the study, are completely random and are due to bad luck. The authors of the study say they wanted to offer comfort to people with cancer who were living a healthy lifestyle, by showing that it was not their fault they got cancer.

This type of study has many problems. First, it involved 32 cancer types and 69 countries. The sampling of the study would have been extremely difficult because cancer incidence in areas with large amounts of asbestos in the soil and bedrock would be different from areas with no asbestos. The effect of exposure to toxins in the environment would vary widely. The ages of the subjects are also important because part of the cancer problem is that more people are living long enough to get cancer. That was not the case even 100 years ago.

When God created the first humans, there was no cancer problem. The point is that God did not create cancer. Passages like Deuteronomy 28 tell us that rejecting God would result in God not withholding “curses” on humans. Verses 1-14 describe God’s protection from these things, but verses 15-68 describe the curses in detail. The Hebrew word for curse in these verses is arar which means to be completely without God’s help or blessing.

When humans reject God, we are left on our own to deal with the consequences. Galatians 6:7-8 talks about reaping what we sow. That principle applies to people or nations as well as individuals. James 1:13-17 describes God as a loving God who never gives us temptations of any kind, but rather brings good things. It also tells us that God does not vary or mislead in the way He deals with us.

We have contaminated our world with chemicals that we disposed of in irresponsible ways. We have contaminated our bodies with chemicals from recreational drugs, alcohol, and even prescription drugs. The result has been a cancer curse and many of the curses God warned of in Deuteronomy. We need to turn back to Him.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Dancing Around Religion

Is Religion a Brain Function?
Is religion a brain function? Stav Dimitropoulos is a regular writer for Discover magazine. In the July/August 2017 issue (page 26-27) she wrote an article titled “Trying to Lose My Religion.” She explains her religious feelings by saying, “Could my grandparents’ faith, foisted upon me during my formative years, have hard-wired my otherwise logical brain for mysticism?”

Dimitropoulos launches into a series of speculative discussions trying to explain away the unique religious quality of humans as entirely functions of the brain. In one section of the article, she suggests that psychoactive drugs will accomplish the same result. One of her fellow researchers, Dr. Jordan Grafman at Northwestern University points out that, “Mystical experiences can lead to creative thoughts and artistic development.” This is a step in the right direction. The problem is that researchers like Dimitropoulos lump all religious activity into the same mold.

Attempting to suggest that all religions do the same thing, come to action in the same way, and/or have the same experiences in worship activity is rather ignorant. Many of us worship quietly on our own without emotional experiences or ritual. Suggesting that an apologetic scholar, a Unitarian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a voodoo chanter, a Buddhist, a Catholic priest, and pentecostal participant engaging in tongues all do the same thing, in the same way, is ludicrous.

The fact that creativity, music, art, and worship all have similar origins in religious activity is a manifestation of the spiritual nature of humans. Guilt, sympathy, compassion, and self-sacrificing love are further manifestations of the human spiritual nature. Those of us who work with the mentally challenged and have mentally challenged children can tell you that their spiritual nature is no different from ours. They may not be able to express that nature as we do because of the impairment they have to overcome.

Trying to make religion a brain function is dancing around the fact that there are things humans do which are not rooted in any evolutionary model. Attempting to break the brain down into a multilayered device to explain everything there is to know about humans doesn’t work. God created us in His image and religion is not a function of the brain. Our spiritual uniqueness is not dependent on our brain or any section of the brain.
–John N. Clayton © 2017